I began the Akitada series in the mid-eighties. Progress was extremely slow. I was still teaching full-time and would be for another fifteen years. Besides, I had never written fiction before, let alone a mystery, let alone one set in eleventh-century Japan. But Robert Van Gulik had done the same thing for China and, thus inspired, I persisted.
As I worked on my protagonist over the years, several interesting things happened. First off, I realized that I did not want a Sherlock Holmes type, a remote character with a super-human intelligence, but rather an ordinary man with flaws and a stubbornness to succeed in spite of the odds. The latter may well have been derived from my own failures over the years. By 2000, I had four unpublished Akitada novels and some short stories. I won a Shamus award with one of the stories, “Akitada’s First Case.” This is only of interest because it encouraged me to think that perhaps I could write about Akitada after all.
I did find a publisher in time (three actually, since they wouldn’t stick) and wrote altogether 13 Akitada novels, the most recent being THE OLD MEN OF OMI. Since my eighth novel, I have self-published the books with the freedom to shape my protagonist as I wanted without interference from editors.
Akitada has aged in all this time. He was eighteen in “Akitada’s First Case,” a diffident, shy youngster who succeeded only because pity for a father who had lost his child gave him the courage. In my most recent novel, Akitada is forty-one and a widower, a lonely broken man who goes through the motions to provide for his children and dependents.
My readers have taken a surprising interest in Akitada, wanting him to be happy, complaining when he argued with his wife, grieving when he lost her, and always wondering what will happen to him next. I was a little uneasy writing OLD MEN OF OMI, because Akitada falls in love with the nineteen-year-old daughter of his best friend. He knows it’s utterly inappropriate and reprehensible, and I, the author, agreed and worried about the reviews.
Akitada’s personality as much as the realities of life cause me to create such situations. Life is unpredictable and so is the human libido. Still, the more shocking events in his life are what have kept Akitada fresh and will let the series continue. No need to kill off the protagonist because the author has become bored with him.
I. J. Parker, September 15, 2014